Voices: Why I couldn’t bring myself to watch the trial of another white vigilante

·5-min read

It only took the jurors about three days to do what always felt inevitable: allowing Kyle Rittenhouse to walk away from his trial a free man.

Rittenhouse is the teenager who shot and killed two men and wounded another with an AR-15 style rifle as violent protests against police brutality swept through Kenosha, Wisconsin last year following a white police officer shooting and paralyzing a Black man, Jacob Blake, after being called to an apartment complex for a domestic violence dispute.

For many of us watching, it was difficult to understand how a teenage boy that brought a military style weapon to a protest is somehow the victim in all of this when he’s the one still living and breathing.

Throughout the trial, prosecutors portrayed Rittenhouse as an “active shooter” who roamed the streets of Kenosha looking to spark violence.

“You lose the right to self-defense when you’re the one who brought the gun, when you are the one creating the danger, when you’re the one provoking other people,” Deputy District Attorney Thomas Binger said in closing arguments.

Rittenhouse’s attorney, Mark Richards, however, painted the men that Rittenhouse killed and wounded as the aggressors.

“Every person who was shot was attacking Kyle: One with a skateboard, one with his hands, one with his feet, one with a gun,” Richards said in his closing arguments. “My client does not have to take a beating from the hands of this mob.” When Rittenhouse himself took the stand, he said, while sobbing,“I didn’t do anything wrong. I defended myself.”

Rittenhouse once again cried as the jury acquitted him on all charges.

On the first count, first-degree reckless homicide for the death of Joseph Rosenbaum; the second count, first-degree recklessly endangering safety for shooting toward Richard McGinniss; the third count, first-degree recklessly endangering safety for shooting toward an unidentified man; the fourth count, first-degree intentional homicide for the shooting death of Anthony Huber; the fifth count, attempted first-degree intentional homicide for shooting Gaige Grosskreutz.

All not guilty.

When asked about the verdict, President Joe Biden offered an expected but no less disappointing response. “Look, I stand by what the jury has concluded,” Biden said. “The jury system works, and we have to abide by it.”

It’s amazing to hear anyone say that with a straight face in 2021 but it feels even sillier coming from the man with a Black woman as his vice president. How many more examples do we need to see how untrue that is? Or better yet, how many more do people like Joe Biden stop pretending there isn’t a real problem?

This rhetoric along with the thinking behind it is largely why I could not bring myself to watch the trial of another white vigilante. George Zimmerman being acquitted of Trayvon Martin stripped me of any lingering hope that perhaps this country could live up to what it claims to be. However, as soon as conservatives took up Rittenhouse’s cause, as they did with Zimmerman, it was easy to see where this was going.

Of course, I did know Rittenhouse had much help in Judge Bruce Schroeder, who in the course of the trial, has been criticized for how he angrily reprimanded the prosecution, referred to a juror in a past case as a “Black,”banned MSNBC from the courtroom, and being known for being often “pro-defense.” Judge Schroeder even let Rittenhouse randomly select dismissed jurors out of a tumbler so he could feel “in control.”

Is this the criminal justice system working properly? Sure, but for whom it is often designed to benefit. Men like Kyle Rittenhouse. They get to be judge, jury, and executioner. They get to play victim and aggressor. That’s why it was sickening to hear Judge Bruce Schroeder compliment the jury for justifying “the confidence that the founders of our country placed in you.”

As Wisconsin’s lieutenant governor and senatorial candidate Mandela Barnes explained on Twitter: “We have seen so many Black and brown youth killed, only to be put on trial posthumously, while the innocence of Kyle Rittenhouse was virtually demanded by the judge. As elected leaders, myself and others have a special responsibility to lift up the voices of organizers, activists and everyday people working for change. We must transform moments like this by raising our voices, together.”

I wish this was more of the tone President Biden had taken, but there is one sentiment the administration expressed earlier in the week that bears repeating.

In the White House press briefing on Monday, Fox News reporter Steve Doocy asked Jen Psaki, “Why did President Biden suggest that Kyle Rittenhouse … is a white supremacist?”

Psaki replied: “We shouldn’t have, broadly speaking, vigilantes patrolling our communities with assault weapons.”

No, we shouldn’t, and much of that has been lost in the coverage of Kyle Rittenhouse. The right wants to pretend Rittenhouse’s cause is to the second amendment, but this is more about the first. As Black Americans, we have to deal with racist cops and white vigilantes. It is our right to take the streets and demand we not be abused, shot at, or killed by police officers. We not only now have to continue to fear them, we must now contend with the reality that there is now more reason than ever to fear violent white men with guns with or without a badge because as the American justice system continues to highlight, the law prefers to give only some of us real rights and freedoms – including to kill.

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